The Practice of Evangelism
by Rayford J. Grady (January / February 2005 — Volume 21, Number 1)
How one congregation intentionally redesigned its life to embrace both the ministry of evangelism and the communities it serves.
In the 1990s the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit (LCHS), an African-American congregation on the south side of Chicago, began to wrestle with what it means to be called and sent “to the world” and at the same time not be “of the world.”
We asked probing questions regarding our worship and evangelism that caused even more questions and struggles. We discovered that to be called and sent means being accessible to the world. With time, we began to grow. On one Sunday alone, sixteen people joined as members of LCHS.
In 2001, we expanded our church facilities to accommodate the new growth. We added three classrooms, a parish hall, a kitchen, a pastor’s office, handicap accessible restrooms, and extended worship space. In 2002 we added a satellite ministry (sister congregation).
Developing the How
How did we get to this point? How did we learn to practice the ministry of evangelism?
LCHS practices both evangelization and evangelism. Evangelization is a broad “fish-net” approach, while evangelism is an individual “fishing pole” approach.
Both evangelization and evangelism involve sharing the good news of Jesus, the Christ. Both words are indicative of what can, should, and must be done. Both of these words indicate that carrying the message of Christ is a need that must be fulfilled. But neither tells us how we can accomplish it. LCHS had to develop the how.
For us, as in many congregations, we first had to figure out how to lead a religious group of Christians from exclusiveness (being closed to one’s outside community) to inclusiveness (being opened to one’s community). How to move the church to have an open and outward witness in sharing the good news became our focused task.
But we had a couple of barriers to overcome first.
Sharing the good news would involve sharing our personal stories, coupling them with the story of Christ, and finally sharing both of them with others. This is not an easy task when being open and outward had not been an integral part of our practice as a congregation.
LCHS also had to struggle with being open to change. Our invitation to the community needed to extend to actual participation in the kingdom of God. Our invitation needed to include both people we knew in the community and those we didn’t know. This too was an uncomfortable experience for many. But congregations die when they close their doors to the communities that surround them.
According to the old adage, practice makes perfect. We were facing a situation where a new praxis was needed that would impact the majority of the congregation. Would our current structure allow a new praxis? And where would a new praxis of acceptance, affirmation, acknowledgment, and accountability for both members and nonmembers fit within our structure? These important questions had to be answered prior to evangelization and evangelism taking place.
We structured our congregation’s constitution to state that a nonmember is welcome to participate in the life of the church but does not have a vote at congregational meetings. In addition, though we offer a four-to-six-week orientation to any person who has an interest in learning more about the church, nonmembers are always invited to participate in worship and share their time, talent, and treasures.
We also realized that we needed to help our members know how to witness — for each of us to connect our stories with Jesus’ story and then with others who were outside our comfort zone, the church. To do this, we needed a fundamental principle of who we were as witnesses. Witnessing is not just what we do or say but what Jesus does with what we do or say. Hence, our self-understanding of a witness is that we are the extended incarnation of Jesus Christ.
LCHS held workshops on evangelization and evangelism called Opening the Doors, Witnessing, Sharing Faith Stories, and Goals of Evangelism. When people have the clarity of what can, should, and must happen, they can relate much easier to the vision of evangelization and evangelism and share their own faith stories.
Sunday morning worship became the place where we would begin our new praxis — a time to model and practice evangelization and evangelism. We added a time of sharing our spiritual journeys — personal stories told in conjunction with the story of Jesus Christ.
Our New Context
Through all of this, our congregation has emerged into a new context which includes both members and nonmembers doing the work of the Lord.
Our doors are open for both members and nonmembers to participate in programs that meet the concerns of the surrounding communities. Our facilities are opened for more than Sunday gatherings. We are extending ourselves to those who have yet to become members.
We are living out our mission statement: “We are one spiritual body called to make Christ known in our homes, church, community, and in the world.”
This statement identifies us, defines our relationship, and reminds us of our purpose. Our ministries are developed to embody Christ.
We have developed special programs to address particular needs, including such programs as Our Tuesday’s Children ministry, Confirmands in Action (C.I.A.), Health Cabinet, Caring Hearts, pastor’s ecumenical Bible study, and community meetings. Nonmembers and members are coming together to meet the needs of the larger community.
We strive to have every ministry of LCHS include an intentional dimension of outreach and evangelism. We see these as opportunities to personally share our faith.
Practice does make it easier.
Rayford J. Grady is pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, Chicago, Illinois.